|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1995 (Issue 96) - Education and Culture (UNESCO, 1995, 264 p.)|
|OPEN FILE: EDUCATION AND CULTURE|
Peter Gale (Australia)
Honours graduate and doctoral candidate in the field of sociology at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia. He has worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in northern Australia. During the past four years, he has been teaching part-time in the area of race relations in the School of Aboriginal Studies at the University of South Australia.
This paper focuses on a qualitative research project on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education in northern Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise 1.6 % of the total Australian population of 17 million. However, approximately one-quarter of the population in the northern coastal region identify themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians. This tropical and sub-tropical area is sparsely populated with less than 200,000 people, and is spread across three Australian states: Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.
'Aboriginal' is an English word which refers to people living in a country or place from earliest known times. While there is no pan-Australian name which Aboriginal people use to refer to themselves, there are a number of Aboriginal words which have become accepted names for groups within particular regional areas. In northern and central Queensland, for example, Aboriginal people refer to themselves as Murris, while in the north-eastern part of the Northern Territory the word Yolngu is used.
Torres Strait Islanders are Melanesian people from the islands north of Cape York Peninsula, although many now live in the towns and cities of north Queensland. In 1992 they adopted their own flag as a way of representing their distinct identity. 'Aboriginal' and 'Torres Strait Islander' are the most common terms used to refer to the indigenous peoples of Australia. While acknowledging the wide diversity in languages and cultures within the indigenous population, the terms 'Aboriginal' and 'Torres Strait Islander' are used in this paper to refer to the indigenous peoples in Australia.
Historically in Australia there have been various levels of post-secondary education. In this paper I will use the term 'tertiary education' in an inclusive way to refer to universities, post-secondary colleges, and technical and further education provisions.
In the past, the response of Australian tertiary education providers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been one of exclusion. The low level of indigenous participation at all levels of education was officially recognized as a problem by the Australian Government in the 1970s. In 1972, for example, there were less than 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enrolled in tertiary education. From the mid-1980s indigenous Australians were identified as an 'educationally disadvantaged group' within tertiary education as part of a shift in government policy towards equity and 'a fair chance for all' to participate in tertiary education (Australia. DEET, 1987; 1988; 1989; 1990). The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students increased to over 3,000 by 1989, while projected enrolments for 1995 exceed 6,000 (DEET, 1994a). Nevertheless, the indigenous participation rate still remains lower than that for the non-indigenous population.
This paper explores how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education has been influenced by the ways in which indigenous people are perceived, spoken of, and written about. I examine how these representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have shaped the ways in which human rights, individual rights and indigenous rights have been applied in Australia. In particular, I will critique the ways in which these three concepts of 'rights' have been applied in education policy within Australia. I will argue that indigenous rights have been limited by the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been represented. I will also examine the conflict between the ways in which indigenous rights have emerged around the world, in contrast with individual rights with particular emphasis on equity and access to tertiary education in Australia.
The paper concludes that the contemporary experience of most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators and students within tertiary education in northern Australia remains 'eurocentric' and assimilatory. I argue that, to bring about a substantial change in tertiary education for indigenous Australians, there needs to be a shift in the dominant representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Instead of being represented as a 'disadvantaged' group with an associated emphasis on equity, I conclude they should be represented as indigenous, with a corresponding emphasis on indigenous rights.
Globalization and the politics of rights
Recent academic debates have sought to address the limitations of social theory which has been founded on class relations. This has led to a greater emphasis being placed on the significance of gender, ethnicity and 'race'. The emergence of new social movements, such as the Indigenous Rights Movement, is one of many aspects which have been described as part of a process of 'globalization'. The inclusion of the cultural dimension associated with new sites of political struggle, such as the Indigenous Rights Movement, is a significant aspect of this process of globalization. Stuart Hall (1992), writing from the context of 'race' relations in the United Kingdom, argues that the central issue within contemporary politics is how social reform can work with and through difference. This is a complex process involving the formation of solidarity and political alliances, and identification between social movements and minority groups as a basis for social reforms, while allowing for real heterogeneity and diversity of interests and identities.
From a non-Western perspective, Alatas (1993, p. 332) argues that there needs to be a critique of Western social science, and he calls for liberating ways of speaking, thinking and writing which are able to break away from the 'wholesale adoption of western ideas and techniques'. In relation to the Australian context, Carmen Luke (1992, p. 49) suggests that what is required is serious critical attention to those contemporary ways of thinking and speaking that claim to be emancipatory while remaining theoretically 'gender- and colour-blind'. The struggle for rights has been a central feature of contemporary global social movements. This has involved a diversity of interests including human rights, individual rights and collective rights.
Collective rights seek to protect the rights of particular groups and include cultural characteristics, such as particular languages, religions, legal norms and culturally important activities. However, collective rights must satisfy two criteria: the legitimacy of the collective right, and the need to secure a collective right. Collective rights also require a means of protection and an evaluation of any conflict between competing rights (Sanders, 1991). This paper seeks to discuss Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education in Australia in the light of these theoretical challenges and the emergence of a global Indigenous Rights Movement and contemporary public debates surrounding indigenous rights.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education
Since the establishment of the first state authorities in Australia over two hundred years ago, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been subjected to successive government policies of segregation, 'protection' and assimilation. In 1967 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were finally granted recognition as Australian citizens. Over the past two decades there have been substantial changes stemming from political reforms made in the early 1970s: the implementation of a self-management policy in 1975; Aboriginal Land Rights legislation in the late 1970s; and more recently the recognition of native titles in the Native Title legislation of the early 1990s. While Australian governments no longer espouse an 'assimilationist' policy, the persistent levels of inequality in the social indicators of health, housing, employment and levels of imprisonment of indigenous people remain a testament to the failure of contemporary policies.
There have been major changes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education over the past three decades since the first full-time Aboriginal teacher training course was established in 1968. Since then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education has developed primarily through the establishment of over fifty special Aboriginal enclave programmes that provide personal, academic and cultural support for students in institutions of tertiary education across Australia. This has occurred along with the establishment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander institutions of tertiary education.
In seeking to address the low level of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education, there has been a significant increase in the allocation of government resources over the past decade. Since 1985 there has been a separate funding allocation for the provision of special entry places for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in institutions of tertiary education (DEET, 1989). Hence the mid-1980s can be seen as a crucial turning point in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education. In 1988 the report of the Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force made a further contribution to future policy direction, and in 1989 the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy, referred to as the AEP, was formally endorsed (Australia. DEET, 1989). More recently, in 1994, there has been a National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, with the aim of improving participation rates even further (DEET, 1994a, 1994b).
The preceding discussion has provided a brief description of the changes in government policy and the effects of these changes in tertiary education. I will now discuss the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been represented in the tertiary education sector.
Representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in tertiary education
For over 200 years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been represented as an inferior people and excluded or marginalized from mainstream society. Stanner (1979, p. 144) traces the changes in European thinking since the first sightings of the 'Aborigine', arguing that there are distinguishable 'lineages of thought' in relation to the Australian Aboriginal population. At the time of the European invasion, Europeans tended to view the indigenous people of Australia with 'contempt, derision and indifference', as 'primal', or as an inferior 'dying race' (Stanner, 1979, p. 145, 151-53).
There have been distinct themes in these ways of thinking, speaking and writing about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These include: as an object of study in anthropology (Muecke, 1992); as inferior and primitive (Brock, 1993); or as 'indians' (Nakata, 1993, p. 335). While these ways of knowing the 'Aborigine' and the 'Islander' have been challenged and are changing, the dominant representations continue to be founded upon their relative position of disadvantage in relation to the Australian population. Government policies have been based on the 'problem' of disadvantaged people. The emphasis within the national Aboriginal Education Policy, for example, continues to be founded on the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a disadvantaged group.
Hence there are a number of what can be identified as competing discourses, or 'descriptions and figures of speech often assembled around metaphors and vivid images' (Wetherell & Potter, 1992, p. 90). Whenever we speak, read, write or act, we call forth certain ways of viewing the world, and ways of valuing and thinking about our fellow human beings (Gee, 1990). As educators, we have a moral obligation to become critically reflective of the ways we think, speak and write about the processes of education, and how these ways may privilege some and harm others (see also Gee, 1990).
In Australian tertiary education there are competing ways of conceptualizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation, which are shaped by the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are perceived and represented. This is evident in the three different conceptualizations of 'rights' in relation to education. Human rights are expressed in terms of the human right to literacy and a basic education. Individual rights are expressed in terms of equity and access to all levels of education within the boundaries of the nation. Alternatively, indigenous rights are expressed in terms of the right to learn in one's own language, the selection of curriculum material and control over the processes of education. The following section describes a qualitative study which examines the significance of the ways we 'know' Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and how this shapes the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in tertiary education in Australia.
Qualitative research on tertiary education in Australia
This research is based on over 100 interviews with professional educators, administrators and a limited number of students in three tertiary education institutions in northern Australia. The interviews focused on perceptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education. This included reflections on respondents' experiences of the issues surrounding an increase in the level of Aboriginal and Islander participation, and the level of indigenous control over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary education.
There were three identifiable ways of thinking, speaking and writing about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education. These three competing ways of thinking have been identified around three metaphors: welfare, equity and indigenous rights. The differences between these ways of thinking were evident in two key areas of discussion covered in the interviews. The first focused on the respondents' representations of, or the way they thought and talked about, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and 'culture'. The second centred on how respondents conceptualized and articulated the role of tertiary education and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation. The following section describes and discusses the three different responses and is based on transcripts of the interviews with respondents.
EDUCATION AS WELFARE
Education as welfare was one of three metaphors identified. It was characterized by a representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as 'inferior' and therefore as welfare recipients. In other words, it placed an emphasis on their participation in special tertiary education units as the provision of welfare. Indigenous culture was perceived as static through representations of 'traditional Aborigines', and through perceptions of the role of education as the preservation of traditional culture. A dichotomy was made between those from 'traditional' or remote communities, and the 'urban' Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. The 'true Aborigine' was represented as continuing the cultural traditions of the pre-colonial era. Aboriginal students became categorized either as traditional or non-traditional, while some were excluded as they fitted neither category. The following quotes from two of the respondents reflect this metaphor of welfare:
[Referring to Aboriginal educators] I think it is rare [...] to find an Aboriginal person initially who has the breadth of skills in the Northern Territory. I mean you may be able to bring someone up from down south.
The problem often is that the trainees are pushed beyond their expertise [...] what is really going to happen is that you're setting them up for a fall; they haven't got the knowledge.
I mean our tribal students come with fairly little formal training, not very fluent in, rich in, skills in English and oral communication. So that was a problem for me, but on the other hand, we have some very good urban students that come to us and in many ways they are a lot more sophisticated than our students, I mean our tribal students.
The following comments from two respondents reflect the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are represented as 'welfare' recipients, and the way 'traditional' Aboriginal people are perceived as the real 'Aborigine':
I think that there's a lot of expectations that I will [...] get them up to scratch [...] we're in deficit and we need topping up and so on.
and so because that agenda has been given by urban Aboriginal people, the longer that the agenda gets driven the further and further and further it gets from the needs of traditional Aboriginal people. And that's what's been happening.
A major focus of this way of seeing tertiary education is how to compensate for cultural difference. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student is represented as the 'traditional' indigenous person and a cultural opposite of the European person. A dichotomy is created and Aboriginal people are represented as essentially culturally different to non-Aboriginal people. They are perceived as having different needs deriving from these cultural differences.
From this perspective the role of the tertiary educator becomes that of a 'missionary' bringing enlightenment and civilization to the indigenous student. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student is represented as someone who has a poor level of standard English language skills, who does not attend classes regularly, who turns assignments in late, and who needs more academic support to compensate for educational and cultural deficiencies. This welfare metaphor was not the most common among the respondents. However, elements of the welfare representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation remain a significant characteristic of tertiary education in northern Australia.
INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS AND EQUITY
The emphasis among most respondents was on equity, and on the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enrolled in tertiary education in contrast with the general population. The conceptualization of tertiary education was based on rights to access, participation and educational achievement. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, from this perspective, were represented as a disadvantaged group. Indigenous cultures were conceptualized within the context of a multi-cultural policy which emphasized the expression of visible signifiers such as food, song and dance. Education was viewed as a means of overcoming indicators of inequality and marginalization.
Major emphasis was placed on skills-based training for particular employment, and on students gaining specialized training and receiving academic qualifications. This was presented as a means of diminishing the indicators of social inequality such as employment, income, health, housing and rates of imprisonment. The following two statements from respondents are characteristic examples of equity as a dominant metaphor for Aboriginal and Islander participation in tertiary education:
This amazing emphasis and push towards competency-based education, which I think is almost the antithesis of primary health care. The bureaucrats and senior management that I'm talking about, they want measurable outcomes.
The management and the people that want these tangible outcomes, they want to be able to [...] define exactly what the health workers can do at the end of the course, so they can still control it.
The emphasis on equity as the primary role of tertiary education is founded upon the idea of the individual's right of citizenship within the nation. The educational practices associated with an emphasis on equity are an increased focus on educational access, participation and outcomes in relation to those groups identified as disadvantaged. As reflected in the excerpts above, from this perspective there were three main aspects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation: training and accreditation; education as the acquisition of Western knowledge; and tertiary education as a means to employment. The educational process was seen as the gaining of academic competence through a prescribed curriculum. Although the curriculum content remains Eurocentric, the students are encouraged to interpret and apply the content to their own cultural contexts.
When set against the indicators of inequality in health, housing, employment, and imprisonment, it is not surprising that tertiary education is perceived as the salvation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. However, the representation of indigenous people as disadvantaged presents the tertiary educator with the challenge of preparing these marginalized students to compete in the mainstream labour market. This emphasis on equity was the most pervasive metaphor amongst staff of the educational institutions involved in the research.
A third emphasis among some participants centred around the metaphor of indigenous rights. From this perspective there is a greater focus on the level of indigenous control over tertiary education. This is founded on the collective right of an indigenous minority to determine the shape and content of its education. The emphasis, therefore, is more on the equitable distribution of educational resources, and on principles of self-determination and control over resources and educational institutions.
The following are examples of responses from two participants reflecting an emphasis on indigenous rights as a metaphor for Aboriginal and Islander participation in tertiary education:
The teaching must be in [the area of] language. The lecturers need to be developing competency in language, on-going development in language competency.
I'd like to see Aboriginality recognized as a criterion [for the selection of teaching staff], but at the moment, it's not being recognized.
In this third way of thinking and talking about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education, there is an emphasis on the indigenization of educational institutions, and on the inclusion of an indigenous curriculum. This is presented as a means by which the tertiary education process may be able to avoid the assimilatory forces of mainstream tertiary education. Nevertheless, this perspective on tertiary education also stresses that indigenous students must be able to critique and master the mainstream curriculum. However, the degree to which this emphasis on indigenous rights can be offered as a viable alternative within tertiary educational institutions is dependent upon the implementation of collective rights. This involves the allocation of human, material and financial resources for the development of new courses and curricula, along with the flexibility to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff within the tertiary institutions. This staff initially may not have the academic qualifications and professional experience normally associated with the tertiary teaching profession.
When there is an emphasis on indigenous rights the focus of attention is shifted from the student to the structures and practices of the educational institutions, and to the control of human and material resources. In the past it was these structures and practices which marginalized Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in tertiary education.
While relatively few respondents placed emphasis on this metaphor of indigenous rights, it was evident that it is becoming a significant challenge to the more dominant ways of conceptualizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education. The emergence of this perspective has become the basis of many conflicts in tertiary institutions over staffing, courses and curriculum, and management. It also has facilitated changes that have enabled the expression of indigenous rights through increased numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teaching staff, and through greater indigenous control over tertiary education.
A question of rights
The dominant contemporary representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been founded upon indicators of relative disadvantage within the Australian population. This has included tertiary education participation and outcomes. These indicators have been presented by successive governments as unacceptable levels of inequality. 'A fair chance for all' has been a phrase adopted by the Department of Employment, Education and Training, the federal government agency charged with responsibility for providing resources for tertiary education (DEET, 1990). The phrase is based on Australian folklore which suggests a national ethos of fairness, of giving every person a 'fair go' or a chance to achieve. In government policy on tertiary education this has been expressed through an emphasis on equity. The representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a disadvantaged group, and the current emphasis on equity in tertiary education, has been significant in shaping the way indigenous people have been able to participate in tertiary education.
With the emphasis on equity and individual rights, the goal has been to overcome the relative disadvantage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the nation state. This contrasts with a representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as an indigenous minority group which emphasizes indigenous rights. The latter emphasis seeks to address the ethnocentric nature of mainstream tertiary education and the intrinsic rights of an indigenous minority group to control its own processes of education.
There are two distinct areas of difference in the way respondents in this research conceptualized Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in Australian tertiary education. These distinctions centre around the rights of an individual as a citizen of the nation to have an equal opportunity to participate in tertiary education, or, alternatively, the collective rights of indigenous peoples as a group to take control of their own education. The former represents access to tertiary education as a right of all citizens. The latter represents the rights of indigenous peoples to oversee an equitable proportion of educational resources, and to make choices over the processes of their own education.
During the past decade Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education has been significantly influenced by representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a disadvantaged group. Also what has constituted the 'traditional' indigenous culture continues to determine the shape of tertiary education in northern Australia. The term 'traditionally oriented' is still used to refer to communities in remote areas. The educational needs of these communities have been conceptualized differently to those of 'non-traditional' Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders living in urban settings. The remote area community is represented as the remnant of traditional Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture. The emphasis of tertiary education in these contexts is to preserve and maintain the traditional, in contrast to non-traditional settings where the goal is integration into the dominant culture.
Up until the 1980s the major focus of education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was the provision of welfare. This was founded on a conceptualization of education as a basic human right and a means to alleviate poverty. The dominant representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this era were those reflecting an 'inferior' status and describing them as welfare recipients. This limited the level of participation of indigenous people in tertiary education. Over the past two decades there has been a gradual shift away from a welfare perspective. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people more recently have been represented as a disadvantaged group, and the emphasis has changed to individual rights. However, when tertiary education is founded upon the rights of the individual, with an emphasis on equity, indigenous education is conceptualized as a means of overcoming indicators of inequality. Within this mode of conceptualization, the dominant experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in tertiary education has remained assimilatory.
More recently, and clearly associated with the International Year for the World's Indigenous People, and with the emergent indigenous rights movement globally, there has been a competing conceptualization of tertiary education. From this perspective there is a greater emphasis on indigenous rights. However, across Australia this conceptualization has been sporadic and uneven, varying between regions and institutions, and has not been able to achieve significant inroads into parts of northern Australia.
Some institutions have been responsive to the call for the recognition of indigenous rights. This has led to a far greater level of indigenous control over the management and administration of some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary education programmes, changes in the curriculum to incorporate an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective, and the employment of Aboriginal and Islander educators. However, collective rights have yet to achieve the level of acceptance accorded to individual rights in Australia.
Within educational institutions successful claims to collective rights have been limited and have clearly encountered resistance. While governments supplement funding to educational institutions which address disadvantage, the focus of such education is on diminishing difference as a means towards diminishing disadvantage. This is in contrast with an indigenous rights perspective which aims to correct the ways in which educational institutions have marginalized Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Indigenous rights require protection through law. Institutional and legal changes enable the recognition of the rights of a collective group to maintain differences such as those of a linguistic, legal, religious, economic, political or cultural nature. The legal protection of collective rights facilitates self-determination through economic, political, and cultural autonomy and independence.
This paper has provided a brief introduction to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education in Australia. This has been a history of exclusion and marginalization, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been limited to the provision of a basic education as a fundamental human right within the welfare state. However, over the past decade, there has been a shift in policy with a greater emphasis on equity. This has been expressed in the form of 'A fair chance for all' to participate in tertiary education in Australia (DEET, 1990). This has contributed to a significant increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education. However, there has been very little change within the tertiary institutions to accommodate this increase, therefore the experience of most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students continues to be one of conforming to the status quo.
This shift towards an emphasis on equity has been founded upon individual rights of citizenship since the mid 1980s. Nevertheless an emphasis on individual rights has not contributed to the realization of indigenous rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Indigenous rights as a collective right place an emphasis on increasing the level of autonomy, self-management or self-determination of the collective.
While there are no longer religious mission organizations controlling the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the 'missionary educator' and tertiary institutions continue to influence indigenous people through their control over knowledge and the processes of education. I therefore conclude that in mainstream tertiary education in northern Australia there have been only minor shifts away from an ethnocentric curriculum base. While there have been some new courses incorporating an indigenous perspective, and some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators have been partially employed within tertiary institutions, tertiary education remains assimilatory towards the dominant Eurocentric culture.
Improvement in tertiary education in Australia is evaluated on the basis of the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled, and on the number of graduates. The processes and content of this education are founded on the knowledge and skills that are believed to be required for the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within an increasingly deregulated labour market. With an emphasis on equity, tertiary education is represented as a means of empowerment for individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. This is founded on the assumption that, once the dominant forms of knowledge have been mastered, the student will be able to gain access to employment and the associated social benefits within Australian society.
An alternative perspective has emerged in recent years with an emphasis on indigenous rights, founded upon the collective rights of minority groups. It questions the assumptions of individual rights and equity and seeks to incorporate a diversity of perspectives and knowledge bases within tertiary education. The indigenous rights movement aims to increase the level of indigenous control over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education. However, this is limited by the legal status which has been accorded to indigenous rights in Australia.
The concept of indigenous rights seeks to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education through the allocation of an equitable proportion of educational resources, control over these resources, the employment of Aboriginals and Islanders as educators, and the development of an indigenous and inclusive curriculum in tertiary education. The idea of indigenous rights challenges the assimilatory and Eurocentric nature of mainstream tertiary education in Australia. This involves a shift towards a greater level of participation in the management, administration and delivery of mainstream tertiary education by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In summary, I have sought to demonstrate the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are represented as the disadvantaged group within tertiary education. I have sought to critique how this representation has shaped the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in tertiary education in northern Australia. From an indigenous rights' perspective, however, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be valued as the holders and conveyers of knowledge, and entrusted to manage its production and conveyance in the tertiary sector. When, in Australia, we can go beyond an individual rights perspective, couched in the Australian mythology of 'a fair chance for all', then we may be able to move towards the recognition and attainment of indigenous rights.
1. The research on which this paper is based was funded by a grant from the Flinders University Research Committee, and through an Australian Postgraduate Research Award. Thanks are due to those who commented upon early drafts: Dr. J. Haggis, Mary-Anne Gale and Colleen Barker. I also wish to thank staff within the Department of Sociology at Flinders University. The names of all respondents and institutions have been excluded to maintain confidentiality. Nevertheless, I am indebted to them all for their willingness to be involved in this research.
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